Language-Games, Geography, and Making Sense of the Arctic – Geoforum – article

Language-Games, Geography, and Making Sense of the Arctic

Ingrid A. Medby | Geoforum

2019-10-22

Geography is closely tied to language: denominations, definitions, and metaphors are all part of conditioning spatial understandings. In recent years, critical geographers have also highlighted that there is much more to geography than its representation. One philosopher whose work centred on the relationship between language and practice, meaning and use, was Ludwig Wittgenstein. Yet, explicit engagement with his thought has been modest in geography. This article argues that Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of language offers useful contributions to the study of geography. It focuses on a space presently undergoing rapid “spatialisation”, the Arctic, and draws on articulations by Norwegian state personnel, policy papers, and speeches. Using Wittgenstein’s concept of “language-games”, the paper demonstrates how spatial understandings are closely tied to practice, while political practices themselves are as much about knowing how to use language. The aim here is neither to unmask any hidden meaning nor to arrive at any one definition, but rather to highlight how meaning lies in terms’ use. In order to “make sense of” seemingly competing names, definitions, and sayings, these must be seen in light of different practices. However, as socially defined, the “rules” may also change. This is arguably where the potential and political purchase of Wittgenstein’s thought lies: in emphasising how geographical meaning is made through social and political interaction.

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